Juneau looks to draft Southeast redistricting proposal

Posted: Friday, March 25, 2011

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly on Thursday agreed upon a set of seven standards it wants to see developed in drafting a proposal to the Alaska Redistricting Board.

The redistricting board has received the latest U.S. Census figures. Every 10 years when that data is collected and released, the state reevaluates House districts.

The CBJ has contracted with attorney Jim Baldwin, who has experience with reappropriation, suggested the list of seven standards the city should use when drafting Juneau House districts.

Those are:

• The core Capitol complex and related infrastructure will be contained in a single district, with population taken from existing districts 3 and 4.

• The remaining population of the current District 4 will be combined with population outside CBJ boundaries, located in the northern portion of Southeast.

• When adding population to the current District 3 from District 4, population will be added by including the entire area of an existing precinct when possible.

• The prison population at Lemon Creek Correctional Center will be counted in the election district where it’s located.

• The Southeast region of districts 1 through 5 should contain four districts that do not extend beyond the region.

• There must be early outreach to other communities in the region so they have an opportunity to comment or make proposals.

• The plan must recognize the desire of maintaining an effective Native district in the region, to the extent permitted by population.

“The main goal of redistricting is to reestablish a one person, one vote concept,” Baldwin said.

He said election districts are determined via the House and are paired with Senate districts. If Southeast is divided into four districts, it would also have two senate districts. Baldwin said part of what the redistricting board has to consider by state and federal law is geography and social and economic hubs. Another part is that there should be 17,755 people in a district, and given the high-powered mapping software available there isn’t much room for deviation.

Baldwin said the redistricting board has to put out a first-draft plan within 30 days of receiving Census data. Since the board has received that data, it is now traveling to various communities throughout the state to receive public comment and proposals. It meets in Juneau at noon today in the State Office Building. For a full schedule of public meetings see: http://www.akredistricting.org/.

Once that 30 days is over, that’s the last non-board proposals the redistricting board will take in, Baldwin said.

Sixty days after the initial draft, the board will have it’s final draft to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval.

Baldwin said that, in his experience, there will be changes from the first to final draft and it’s important for the region to submit a proposal early on — because if their idea doesn’t make it into the first draft it still has a shot of being implemented in the final product.

Assembly members were concerned with creating districts that caused retrogression with respect to Alaska Native populations. Baldwin said it will be a challenge, given that Native populations are trending to move more into urban areas and some district formations could be viewed as attempts at gerrymandering.

Mayor Bruce Botelho said he plans on speaking at today’s meeting, as well as distributing a copy of the standards to regional mayors. He also plans to hold a teleconference with regional mayors to get input before a draft is completed. Botelho said he realizes the mayors can’t commit to any specific idea for their communities, however they can give feedback.

Assemblyman Merrill Sanford said that was a big concern of his as several communities have already contacted him, urging Juneau to keep them in the process before deciding on a plan. Sanford said Haines is drafting several proposals.

“There are different communities politically wise enough to stand tall on this,” he said.

Assemblyman Bob Doll asked that if most of the communities in the region agreed to a specific plan, if that would have more weight with the redistricting board. Baldwin said it would fit better with the overall outlook of Alaska if the region came together.

The Assembly will hold a special meeting at 4 p.m. on Tuesday in the Assembly chambers to draft a plan for the redistricting board.

For more information on the redistricting board see: www.akredistricting.org.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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